Tag Archives: transgender

Trans, Homeless, and Turning Tricks to Survive

(William Murphy/ Flickr)

At Rolling Stone, Laura Rena Murray chronicles the dangers young trans women face as they struggle to survive on the streets of New York City. Often the targets of violence, one in two trans women in the city will become HIV-positive before she turns 24. Turning tricks to bring in cash, some have gone so far as to attempt suicide simply to gain access to a bed for the duration of the mandatory 72-hour watch period. “I just needed a bed,” says Scarlet. “I did what I had to do to sleep for Christmas.”

In the Dominican Republic, where Sophie was born, her mother struggled with addiction and sent Sophie to live with her grandmother in New York when she was six months old. Her grandmother, who was able to send the family money, food and clothing, Sophie says, by pimping out undocumented girls, was nearly beaten to death by two men when Sophie was in the fourth grade. Both her grandmother and her father hit her, she says, and sometimes locked her out of the house. “It was more hatred than discipline,” she recalls. “My dad would beat me in the shower with a belt and punch me in the face, calling me a faggot. Then he’d turn around and say, ‘I love you.’ How can you treat me like this if you love me?”

She began living on the streets at 16, attending school whenever possible, but more often worrying about where to eat, shower and sleep each night. “You can’t go to school smelly and drawing attention,” she says. “I would take cat baths at Starbucks.” Now, at 21, she’s hoping to build a civil-rights career, either as a lawyer or a social worker. The next morning, in fact, she has an interview for an eight-week internship at the American Civil Liberties Union. “I know I’m going to be a very successful person,” she says. “I want [my father] to learn he lost something.”

There are now more than 350,000 transgender people under the age of 25 in the United States, the majority in the largest cities of New York, California, Florida and Texas – and an estimated 20 percent of them lack secure housing, though many service providers believe that figure is low. Craig Hughes of the Coalition for Homeless Youth notes that the federal definition of homelessness does not include those who trade sex for shelter; instead, they are considered “unstably” housed. “There are thousands who go uncounted,” Hughes says. “They are disconnected from services, sleep on multiple couches a month and spend some nights trading sex for shelter.”

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‘A Boy with No Backstory’: One Teenager’s Transition

In 2014, Oregonian reporter Casey Parks contacted local hospitals to find transgender patients who were interested in telling their stories. One doctor, Karin Selva, had a 15-year-old patient named Jay who was willing to share his own. Parks met Jay and his mother Nancy the following year, soon after his first testosterone shot, and has spent hundreds of hours with him since — at home with family and friends, on school visits, and during medical appointments. In the first piece of a three-part series, Parks chronicles the realization that would prompt Jay’s medical transition.

One afternoon while his mom worked, Jay called his younger sisters to the living room. They were 8 and 10 — old enough, he hoped, to understand.

“I need to show you a video,” he told them. He streamed one of the YouTube videos on the TV. A trans guy appeared on the screen and explained how he came out to his family.

Jay stood while his sisters watched from the couch.

“This is how I feel,” Jay said when it ended.

“So you’re becoming a boy?” asked his youngest sister, Angie.

Jay paused. He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud.

“Kind of.”

“Do you want me to tell mom?” Maria asked.

“No,” he said. Jay hadn’t talked to his mother much the past year, but he knew he had to tell her.

The next day, he crept to the other side of their trailer, his heart knocking. He pushed open his mom’s bedroom door, stood in the doorway and watched her play Candy Crush. She was zoned out after a 12-hour workday. Maybe she’d be too tired to talk about it. She already had on her favorite pajamas, gray sweatpants and a tan tank top.

“I think I figured it out,” he said.

He took a deep breath.

“I’m a boy.”

His mom looked up from the phone.

“So you want to be a butch lesbian?”

“No,” he said. He walked toward her.

“A boy.”

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A Transgender-Military Reading List

Transgender former US Navy Seal Senior Chief Kristin Beck. (Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, a ban on transgender people serving in the United States military.

His tweeted justification was that “our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military [sic] would entail.”

It was, several Twitter users noted, an odd way to mark the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman signing an executive order that ended racial discrimination in the military. There are currently thousands of transgender people serving in the nation’s all-volunteer military.

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Poor, Gay, Black, and Southern: America’s Hidden H.I.V. Crisis

Cover, New York Times Magazine

Ground zero in the AIDS crisis happened on June 5th, 1981, when the C.D.C.’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report identified five cases of pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in previously healthy white men in Los Angeles. The sixth case — a gay African-American man who had contracted PCP and cytomegalovirus — went undocumented. That critical omission has had a horrific ripple effect in the southern United States where the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…predicted that if current rates continue, one in two African-American gay and bisexual men will be infected with the virus.”

In this in-depth report at The New York Times Magazine, Linda Villarosa follows Cedric Sturdevant, who overcame his own despair over H.I.V. to help young black men in some of the poorest counties in the South manage their H.I.V. diagnoses so that they might live healthy, productive lives.

As he stepped into Jordon’s stuffy bedroom, Sturdevant’s eyes scanned from a wheelchair leaning against the wall to a can of Ensure on the bedside table before settling on the young man. He was rubbing his feet, wincing from H.I.V.-related neuropathy that caused what he described as “ungodly pain.” Jordon’s round, hooded eyes were sunk deep into his face. Gray sweatpants pooled around his stick-thin legs, so fragile they looked as if you could snap them in two. His arms were marked with scars from hospital visits and IVs. Over six feet tall, he weighed barely 100 pounds. He smiled slightly when he saw Sturdevant, dimples folding into his hollow cheeks. “Hey, Mr. Ced,” he said, his voice raspy.

“Are you taking your medicine?” Sturdevant asked. For many young men, the H.I.V. diagnosis and the illness are so overwhelming that maintaining a new and unfamiliar regimen of medication can be difficult. Jordon looked down. “Not as often as I should.” When he saw Sturdevant’s glare, he continued, sounding like a little boy. “I hate taking medicine; I hate it. I have to take six pills, now seven, eight, plus a shot —”

Sturdevant cut him off. “We all have to do this, Jordon. Don’t you want to get better?”

Jordon let his head fall back on the pillow. “I know I can get better, Mr. Ced,” he said, massaging his feet. “I just don’t know how everything got so bad.”

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How to Disappear

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Alex Difrancesco | Longreads | April 2017 | 8 minutes (2,070 words)

Last year in New York City, a 19-year-old engineering student named Nayla Kidd went completely off the grid. She changed bank accounts, cell phone providers, shut down her social media, and ditched her Ivy League college to move to Bushwick and become an artist and model, all without ever informing anyone in her life. Social media jumped all over the story, and then news outlets followed suit. Kidd was a missing person for around two weeks when the police finally found her.

I remember reading her post-discovery missive in The New York Post, complete with discussions about her fancy boarding school, full scholarship to Columbia University, calculated plans, the loving mom who had clearly sacrificed for her, and thinking it was a story of the ultimate callousness. She’d had everything, but she said the pressure was entirely too much, that she’d wanted to run away and have the fun life she saw in an East Williamsburg loft she was thinking of renting. I remember reading it, sitting there and staring at the the words while thinking of my own picture plastered across subways and bus stations. How could she do such a thing intentionally? Didn’t she understand what it was like to be truly lost, to need help? Didn’t she understand that so many people were, that it was not some game?

Perhaps I was jealous. When my mental illness made me a missing person in 2010, the NYPD suggested to my friends who reported me missing that I had run off to follow a band. Though my friends set up a cross-country network of activists looking for me in any of the places they thought I might have been, the NYPD did little. Had the cops accessed my bank account, or even looked at my Metrocard swipes (an investigation practice well-established by law enforcement by 2010), they’d have easily figured out that I wandered around the city aimlessly for days before taking a bus to my hometown and checking myself into a hospital. When I saw Kidd’s story, I thought of all the resources that had gone into her “case,” and all of those of us who really were lost, unhealthy, and scared, who were given little to no help.

Alone in a hospital bed that year, unknown, technically still “missing,” my head still a wash of paranoia and confusion, I began to entertain a fantasy. What if I moved to the Midwest? Changed my name? My gender? Grew a beard? They were thoughts I couldn’t remember ever before having had, but they seemed exactly like what I should do in that moment. I had a vision of myself, flat-chested, wearing a white Hanes T-shirt, a genderless pair of Levis, and combat boots. What if I disappeared from all the people in my life? Started over as someone new? I was not well at the time — I was also standing in front of the mirror thinking about a bug I was certain had entered into my skin and had been living in my bloodstream for years, something I now know is obviously not true — but having disappeared from everyone in my life successfully, I began to wonder, “What if I really need to disappear?”

Years later, it wasn’t until I remembered this fantasy that I began to empathize with Nayla Kidd.

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On Being Trans, Disabled and Using the Washroom: ‘I have a right to exist safely in public spaces.’

Photo by Matt Buck (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Christian McMahon remembers growing up transgender and disabled, and implores us to remember that acknowledging someone’s humanity is a lot more than simply allowing them to use the washroom they prefer. Acknowledging his unearned privilege as “a small white man with a disability,” he reminds us that everyone deserves the basic human “right to exist safely in public spaces.”

Until I was in fifth grade, I never questioned the fact that other kids could pee at school, and I could not. As a kid with a chronic physical disability — a tiny speck of a redhead curled into a wheelchair, slumped on a walker, or sagging between a pair of crutches, depending on the year — the rules were different for me.

I knew that if I had to use the bathroom midday, I would have to go to the nurse’s office and say my stomach hurt so that my mom would take me home. This, in turn, meant missing the entire rest of the school day rather than having her bring me back to class, which would mean facing the possibility of someone asking where I’d gone. That was the deal. From kindergarten on, I looked at each carton of chocolate milk, each astronaut pouch of Capri Sun, with the same calculated thought: Could I afford to drink this now and still stay at school all day with my friends? Probably not. My choice, then, was between meeting my human need for liquid and participating fully in my own education.

The ADA passed when I was 10. On TV, I saw a girl near my own age crawl out of her wheelchair and up the inaccessible steps of the Capitol building to demonstrate the need for such a monumental piece of legislation. People with disabilities deserved to be included in society as full citizens. We deserved to be treated as human beings. That we weren’t was something I had already internalized as an immovable fact. I cried in front of the TV that night at the thought that there would be an accessible restroom at my school by the time I started sixth grade. I cried because it hadn’t occurred to me, before that moment, that I could belong in this way.

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Biological Clocks and Biological Gender: Trans Women and the Dream of Pregnancy

Advances in assisted reproductive technology (ART) mean that uterus transplants may one day be an option for cis women. Belle Boggs writes in Guernicaexploring what this possibility — no matter how remote or unaccessible — means for trans women who want to be mothers.

For some trans women, like Blessing, this technology—however nascent—is tantalizing, a medical innovation they believe could one day help them achieve their own dreams of pregnancy. Kimball Sargent, a North Carolina-based therapist who specializes in gender identity, says this is a common interest among her trans patients. Many of her trans women patients feel as Blessing does—they long not only for children but also the bodily experience of pregnancy. “If you have a female brain, and estrogen, a female hormone, that probably influences your desire for pregnancy,” Sargent says. “Some of my clients have been surprised by how powerful the feeling of loss was, when they realized they can’t carry a baby. That’s exactly the feeling infertile women go through.”

She notes that many of her patients experience jealousy when their partners become pregnant, as well as deep frustration with the limits of their transition. “Some think, ‘I’m not a real woman because I can’t carry a pregnancy,’” Sargent says. She remembers seeing a gender-variant four-year-old, genetically male, pretend to give birth to a doll. “She put the doll under her shirt and said, ‘Look, I’m pregnant. I have a baby in my belly.’ She took the baby out, wiped it, and rocked it back and forth. It’s very instinctive.”

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In Makeover Culture, Authenticity Doesn’t Come Cheap

What is behind the contemporary obsession with makeovers? At Aeon, writer and scholar Michael Lovelock examines the cultural and economic forces that drive millions to Instagram hashtags like #transformationtuesday and shows like How to Look Good Naked.

The idea that we have an authentic self — a set of innate personality traits, desires, emotional and intellectual dispositions unique to us — emerged in the 18th century. Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau tried to move away from religion as a means of making sense of the world. Instead, they claimed that the purpose of life was to be true to an essential nature that defined who we are.

In the 21st century, the notion of the authentic self has solidified into common sense, with the routine demands to “be yourself” or to “be real.” This is partly a response to the perceived breakdown of collective structures that traditionally gave life meaning: religion, local community, extended family ties. The late philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has called this state of affairs “liquid modernity” — a description of how reliable anchors of group identity have given way to fluidity, insecurity, and individualism. The makeover offers an apparent solution to these social and cultural transformations. It encourages us to look inwards, to the very fabric of the self for meaning, purpose, and fulfilment.

Paradoxically, the logic of the makeover positions the external body as the site upon which inner authenticity is to be displayed — right before the market steps in to help us achieve this self-realization. Of course, there’s nothing magnanimous about the self-confidence sold to us in the form of a bottle of shampoo, a new dress, or a subscription to a gym.

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When a Sibling Transitions

What I call heroism, Kenyon calls survival. I get worked up when our friends say, “We’ll love her anyway,” or “That must be so hard for your family,” implying that Kenyon’s transition was a problem, not a solution. But Kenyon simply says: “Well, yeah, it is weird. But all I want is tolerance.”

I wonder, Do these friends understand why I’ve called my brother “Lolly” and taken an extra second to correct myself. Do they know I wore Lolly’s jacket to a friend’s house, hoping it still smelled of her? I wonder if they sometimes think about who Kenyon used to be.

I think Kenyon knows Lolly still exists somewhere for our family. I don’t talk about it with him very often, because I have been the one to coach my parents out of their ignorance, and I’ve worked hard to show Kenyon that I agree that transitioning is the best thing he’s ever done for himself. He’s happy now, and proud of his work toward a graduate degree in chemistry. Three years after he began his transition, he says he is the most emotionally and physically comfortable he’s ever felt. When I see stories about people like Leelah Alcorn, the Ohio teen whose parents refused to accept her as transgender and who killed herself, I think about how everything could have turned out differently for our family.

In GlamourMeghan Tear Plummer reflects on her sister’s transition to her brother late in life, and wrestles with what his liberation means for their relationship.

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Cultural Conflicts, Embodied: On Being Transgender, and Unsure

I don’t know that I’ll ever cross over the threshold into a true or authentic self, that I’ll ever pass as male or feel like a singular entity, rather than split. Being in a female body, being dismissed, patronized and emotionally abused in the ways women so often are, has shaped my understanding of human beings, of the ways we interact and exert control. I don’t want to become what I hate, to embody the monstrousness latent in masculinity, growing an extra layer of tissue separating me from my emotions and impairing my compassion for others in the process. I don’t want to be anything like my father.

A trans man I’ve become friends with describes his psychological state before starting testosterone, the inner chaos that rendered him absent from his own life, and the peace hormones brought him, a newfound balance due even more to neurochemical recalibration than bodily changes. I measure my vanity, my horror at the thought of being lonely and unwanted, against my health, my ability to participate in the world. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop hesitating in the wings, too shy of my own spirit, too afraid and unsure of whether I want to be seen for all of who I am.

Jason Phoebe Rusch, in Entropy, takes readers through an experience of being transgender that’s different from most of the narratives the media focuses on — different and difficult, with conflicting desires and fears that physical transition won’t solve.

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